Michigan Wolverines Basketball: What They're Saying After Ohio State
A look around the Internet after Michigan’s 65-49 victory over Ohio State Tuesday night:
Michigan junior guard Zavier Simpson was on the cusp of joining an exclusive group.
But with 3:08 left in Tuesday night's showdown against Ohio State, Simpson was unaware he was closing in on a triple-double until the final media timeout.
"Two of my assistant coaches whispered to me, 'Get another rebound,'" Simpson recalled. "That's when I looked up and was like, 'Wow, this is real.'"
It soon became a reality. With a defensive board with 2:49 remaining, Simpson became the sixth Wolverine to achieve the feat and capped a brilliant all-around performance that powered No. 5 Michigan to a 65-49 win at Crisler Center.
Simpson finished with 11 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds and no turnovers to become the first Michigan player to record the milestone since Derrick Walton Jr. did on Dec. 19, 2015.
Simpson also added his name to a short list that includes Caris LeVert, Darius Morris, Manny Harris and Gary Grant on the same night he became the 15th Wolverine to reach 300 career assists and 70th Michigan player to play in 100 career games.
Not so many years ago, the book on subduing a John Beilein team was clear.
Beat ‘em up. Knock ‘em down. Grab ‘em, jam ‘em, and intimidate the finesse right out of them.
It certainly didn’t always work. Look at the record. But it was the best shot some teams had at the Wolverines, while Beilein argued for a freer flow in college basketball games.
Tuesday night in Crisler Center, two teams fresh off their dogsleds got into a dog fight. Michigan didn’t seem to mind one bit.
They survived, and thrived, in a street fight that featured five technical fouls, a pre-game bullying bump, Ohio State’s biggest man on the court going after Michigan’s smallest, and a rugby scrum that threatened to blow up into a fight.
The Wolverines, the new Wolverines, shrugged it off and walked away with a 65-49 win. They’re 20-1, 9-1 in the Big Ten, while the Buckeyes — averaging 73 points per game and coming up 24 shy in this one — slid to an also-ran 3-6 in conference play.
There’s no question the officials let two fierce rivals play. The teams combined for only 18 free throw attempts. But these days, it’s the visiting coach hinting at excess physicality.
“I think we can handle it better,” OSU boss Chris Holtmann said of the second-half acrimony. “That was the accumulation of some frustration, for a variety of reasons. I thought the game was really physical, for the bulk of the game. When the game is that physical, those things tend to happen.”
It's been a gradual process, but no one's begging for toughness any longer.
On a night when Michigan basketball didn't shoot the ball particularly well or do much of anything overly efficient in its halfcourt offense, U-M coach John Beilein walked away with two real surprises.
One, junior point guard Zavier Simpson finished with a triple-double that included 12 assists and no turnovers.
Two, junior center Jon Teske collected a technical foul.
"I think we did that to Jon," Michigan guard Jordan Poole said after the fifth-ranked Wolverines' 65-49 win over Ohio State, a victory that pushed U-M to 20-1 (9-1 Big Ten). "Earlier in the year, we saw that Jon was changing."
Simpson is, of course, U-M's heartbeat and toughest player. Nearly every opposing coach mentions his tenacity and how hard he competes. He sets the tone.
But he's not alone.
When Simpson and Ohio State big man Kaleb Wesson exchanged words during the second half, Poole was quick to step in. As was Teske, once known by the nickname "Big Sleep" for his relatively quiet demeanor.
Ignas Brazdeikis talks about being a fan of cage fighting. Charles Matthews may be one of the most underrated perimeter defenders in the country. Poole and teammate Isaiah Livers don't back down from much.
And there's Teske, who has ramped up his intensity and just about everything else in his game this season.
The days of Beilein begging his team to stop "playing with tuxedos on" are long gone. And right now, even as Michigan's offense searches for stable footing, its defense and overall toughness continue to strangle opponents.
Trash talking in basketball comes with a set of unwritten, but impossible-to-forget rules. Among the most important of these dictums: it doesn’t leave the court.
In the second half of Michigan’s 65-49 win over the Buckeyes on Tuesday, Zavier Simpson fell to the court after being on the business end of a hard screen from Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson. As soon as the play was over, Simpson popped up, yelling and pointing at the Buckeye center.
Sophomore guard Jordan Poole and junior center Jon Teske came armed with words of their own. Wesson responded to both players, and he and Teske exchanged shoves, prompting officials to separate the two.
“We don’t share those,” Simpson said, when asked about the incident.
But therein lies the beauty of trash talk: to the extent that its impact can be quantified, you don’t have to know what, exactly, was said in order to do so.
The anatomy of that skirmish sums up a game that rode the emotional highs and lows of one of the fiercest rivalries in all of college sports. It sums up a team that prides itself on beating you down physically and mentally. And it sums up a team that wants to let you know that in the worst way.
“A game like this is huge emotionally, especially with it being a rivalry,” Poole said. “Obviously they’re a really good team. Being able to have the fire and the energy definitely sets a tone, being able to just take everything personally, that’s the type of game it was today.”
By now, if you know anything about the Michigan men’s basketball team, you know that toughness starts with its junior point guard — who had no hesitation in calling himself the leader of it all.
“Everybody’s tough on the court until things really get deep,” Simpson said. “That’s when you know who’s really tough. … It’s about who's going to take the charge, who’s going to grab that rebound, who’s going to dive on the floor, who’s going to make sure the team mindset is great. That’s really toughness.”
Simpson’s proven that toughness many times over. One thing he hadn’t done before Tuesday night, though, was record a triple-double.
Zavier Simpson was tough again on this night and he spoke with his usual contempt for those who were not. He recounted a pregame dust-up, when he and an Ohio State player brushed shoulders.
“Oh yeah, yeah, got a little chippy,” Simpson said, eyes trained forward. “You know, everybody is tough on the court, till things really get deep. That’s when you know who is really tough.”
Even after two years of Simpson-brand basketball leading Michigan, it’s still jarring to hear a U-M basketball player speak this way. Simpson is often called the alpha, but perhaps that’s a short-sell. In reality, Simpson not only leads Michigan, but has grown to become the manifestation of this program — one rolling with a 20-1 record, fastened in a first-place tie with Michigan State in the Big Ten (9-1).
Like with Moore and Collins — a pair of diminutive point guards — Beilein has relinquished control of his team’s personality.
“They weren’t big-time shooters, but they ran the team,” Beilein said of those who came before Simpson. “Those two, they had the locker room, all the time. That was big. And he (Simpson) has the locker room. Coaches can only have so much of the locker room. It has to be player-led. He leads it.”
This night was only the latest example. Simpson left the floor Tuesday to a cacophony of chants. “Zayyyyy-vier, Simp-son!” He walked with a defiant stride as the sixth player in Michigan basketball history to officially record a triple-double. (Rebounds weren’t counted as a stat until 1958-59, and assists didn’t come until 1977-78, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Simpson scored 11 points on a mixed bag of scoops and hooks, plus one dead-eyed, step-back 3-pointer. He handed out 12 assists, luring Ohio State’s defense in one direction, finding the open man in another. He grabbed 10 rebounds, despite being the shortest player on the floor.
And, like always, there was all the other stuff — the stuff that leads an opposing coach like Ohio State’s Chris Holtmann to say, “He deserves a lot of credit for how he impacts winning.”
Simpson delivered his usual stifling defense. He tracked down loose balls. He dictated the night’s pace and flow on both ends. He stepped chest-to-chest (so to speak) with 6-foot-9, 270-pound forward Kaleb Wesson when things got hot in the second half, a reminder that some grudges don’t die.
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